Future Long Range Assault Aircraft, an opportunity for Italy too?

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)
06/12/22

Bell won the US Army tender for the Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA), under the programme Future Vertical Lift (FVL) or the largest aircraft supply of the last 40 years.

The deal for a new generation tiltrotor is worth approximately 1,3 billion dollars and is intended to replace 2.000 helicopters utility UH-60 Black Hawk.

In the end, the Bell V-280 prevailed Value on Boeing-Sikorsky's competitor, the SB-1 Defiant then named Defiant X.

The requirement was for an assault carrier meant to replace the Black Hawk now in service (albeit updated) for over 40 years, with a marked speed and range. In practice, the new aircraft will have to carry a squad of riflemen at a speed of about 550 km/h with an operational range varying between 900 and 1.400 km.

Il Value della Bell was born from experience of the Ospreyeven though it is structurally different. The mass is about 17 tons and the engines are located at the wing tips (for the production phase Bell will install the Rolls Royce AE 110F), they are fixed while the propellers are tilting (in this way the personnel can disembark from the aircraft using the doors side).

In terms of carrying capacity the Value is able to carry 14 fully equipped soldiers, against 11 of the Black Hawk. Furthermore, the new aircraft will be able to carry a 777 mm (155 t mass) M-4,2 howitzer, via a center of gravity hook, up to a distance of 200 km.

To meet the demands of the Marines, the V-280 was equipped with lateral internal bays capable of accommodating various types of ammunition, as well as the possibility of using external pods.

It should not be forgotten that the machines that will go to the marines will have to have precautions (such as anti-corrosion treatments) to be able to operate at their best from amphibious naval platforms.

The Marine Corps plans to replace both helicopters utility UH-1Y Venom than AH-1Z attack helicopters Viper. Hence the need to have an armed version of the V-280 Value, maybe able to carry too loitering ammunition, such as Switchblade or Hero.

In a webinar of 2020, organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy, the then Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini referred "to the opportunities underlying the possible Italian participation in the Future Vertical Lift program, regarding which the dialogue between the industrial and institutional counterparts is still ongoing".

In the last year, even the top management of the Army (and not only) have shown a strong interest in the FVL, especially in the FLRAA and the possible applications of a machine in the category of V-280. First, it would greatly enhance the amphibious assault capabilities of the Sea Projection Force, allowing for rapid influx of infantrymen from an amphibious naval platform such as the new LHD Trieste, which is expected to enter service next year. It would also be an ideal air asset for the aircraft brigade Friuli, as it would allow the aircraft to conduct air assaults using direct fire support and being able to carry 120 mm rifled mortars in tow and, in the near future, lightgun by 105 mm.

The only thing left to understand is how to set up a cooperation with Bell that is also profitable for Italy, above all in the light of Washington's atavistic reluctance to share new technologies with its allies (especially the Latin-speaking ones).

Photo: Bell

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